It was an uphill battle almost from the beginning for the UNM women’s basketball team on Thursday night.
The Lobos never quite reached the summit.
Host Wyoming staggered UNM with a 15-0 first-quarter run and fought off several comeback attempts in a 78-69 victory at the Arena Auditorium in Laramie. UNM trailed by as many as 17 points before trimming the deficit to 72-66 with 2:54 left, but that was as close as the Lobos got.
Shaiquel McGruder scored a game-high 22 points and chipped in five blocks for UNM (9-6, 1-1 Mountain West), but the Lobos had no answers for Wyoming guards Grace Ellis and Malene Pedersen, who finished with 19 points apiece.
The Cowgirls (9-5, 2-1) racked up a colossal 41-21 rebounding advantage and scored 50 points in the paint, but Lobos coach Mike Bradbury felt his team’s sluggish start was the biggest difference.
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“Wyoming came out in the first quarter and took it to us,” he said in a postgame phone interview. “Wyoming played harder and wanted to win more than New Mexico did.”
The Lobos did an effective job stopping Wyoming’s top two scoring threats, guard Quinn Weidemann and 6-foot-4 post Allyson Fertig, who were a combined 8-for-23 shooting. But Ellis and Pederson consistently beat their defenders on drives to the basket, scoring on layups or putbacks time after time.
“We got outrebounded because we couldn’t guard their guards off the dribble,” Bradbury said. “Shai (McGruder) had to help on defense so often and there was no one else there to keep them off the boards.”
After grabbing an early 7-4 lead, New Mexico was quickly overwhelmed as the Cowgirls reeled off 15 consecutive points. Weidemann hit a pair of 3-pointers and Ellis converted three layups during the surge.
UNM began to find his footing in the second quarter, trimming the deficit to 36-32 on a LaTascya Duff 3-pointer with 2:07 left. Duff finished with 14 points and hit 4-of-6 from 3-point range.
But Wyoming scored the final six points of the half to take a 42-32 lead to intermission.
The Cowgirls built the advantage to 56-39 midway through the third quarter and appeared ready to blow the Lobos out. But UNM used full-court pressure and defensive traps to change the momentum and gradually got back into contention behind McGruder, who scored inside to cut the margin to 72-66 with 2:42 left.
Wyoming managed to beat the Lobos’ scrambling defense for a pair of late layups, however, to seal the victory. Bradbury credited his team’s fight in the second half, but called it too little, too late.
“Wyoming is one of the top teams in the Mountain West,” he said, “and we spotted them 15 points in the first quarter. You make it awfully hard on yourself when you start a game like that.”
The Lobos will travel to Fort Collins, Colorado on Friday to prepare for noon contest against Colorado State on Saturday.